Iran sends biological capsule into space in step toward human launch

A rocket is launched carrying a capsule named Salman with animals on board into an Earth orbit from an undisclosed location in Iran on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Iranian Defense Ministry/EPA-EFE

Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Iran took a step closer to sending humans into space on Wednesday as its space agency said it successfully launched a biological capsule into space with animals on board.

Officials said the capsule was sent 80 miles into space using an Iranian-built Salman rocket meant to test its launch, recovery and speed control system technologies, along with the capsule's impact shields, aerodynamic design, control systems and biological monitoring, the state-run news agency PressTV said.

"This capsule is the result of relying on domestic power and the efforts of space industry experts in the Ministry of Defense," space agency spokesman Hossein Dalirian said.

Dalirian added that the launch marked the first test for several bio-capsule systems and that the first version of the launcher "performed very well."

The rocket was built by the aerospace wing of Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics. The 1,100-pound capsule was the heaviest biological capsule ever successfully launched into orbit by Iran, according to the space agency.

The agency did not reveal which animals were launched in the capsules.

Iran started working on blasting off animals into space in the mid-2000s and had its first successful launch in 2010. Iran said it successfully sent two monkeys into space and brought them back in 2013.

Iran's Telecommunications Minister Issa Zarepour said that while the capsule launched today can carry humans into space, testing will continue.

"It should be taken into account that we are still five to six years away from reaching the point where we can send humans into space," Zarepour said.

Iran is seeking to join a handful of countries that have sent humans into space, including the United States, Russia/Soviet Union and China. Private companies SpaceX and Blue Origin, both based in the United States, have also sent humans into space.